Teens from more than 30 FIRST Robotics teams packed into the auditorium Saturday morning, for the unveiling of this year’s challenge.
Emcee Ben Spar, a senior member of Farmington’s 2nd Law Enforcers, welcomed the crowd before the lights dimmed. The room hushed and the group, together with an estimated 60,000 people around the world, watched a live NASA-TV broadcast of the kickoff in New Hampshire.
This year’s game, Rebound Rumble, challenges the students to design and build a basket-sinking robot that can be controlled both remotely and through use of a Microsoft Kinect sensor, provided to the teams along with all the other necessary parts. Two alliances, of three teams each, compete to score the most baskets, manipulating the robots to throw foam basketballs into baskets of varying heights. Extra points are earned for balancing the robots together on tipping bridges at the end of the game.
In addition to announcing the game, the kickoff imparted the vision for FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
Founder Dean Kamen reminisced about FIRST’s beginnings, 21 years ago.
“We had a modest goal. We wanted to change the culture of the United States… to get the world refocused on science and technology and to inspire kids; to convince them how cool it is,” Kamen said.
The video dazzled with famous speakers cheering them on — Stephen Colbert, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, The Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am, astronauts and NASA administrator Charlie Bolden, an Xbox designer, the CEO of Coca-Cola and former FIRST Robotics students who have gone on to lucrative and influential careers.
The speakers offered challenges and rewards — scholarships to Yale, the availability of clean drinking water in Africa, communications systems in space — and pinned hope for the future on the students watching and a growing generation of students empowered through FIRST.
“If FIRST succeeds, we’ll have a rebirth of a society that believes in a future that can and has to be better than the past,” Kamen said.
Clinton thanked them for investing in their future. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden thanked the students for the opportunity to invest in them.
“Our NASA team can honestly say, we make a positive impact toward the future of our nation because of you,” Bolden said.
When the broadcast ended, the teams dispersed to collect their kits of parts — boxes of motors, gears, bearings and wheels — and head home to start the hard work of imagining, designing and building their robots.
Simsbury High School’s team is beginning its second year, after great success as a rookie team.
“We’ve doubled our size,” said team mentor Wayne Manchester, as he inventoried the team’s kit. “Our challenge will be making some team structure and getting all the elements of our team to function this year.”
Edward Fouad, captain of Farmington’s 2nd Law Enforcers had similar goals.
“Our challenge will be to integrate all the new members into our team. I want everybody to feel like they have an active role in the design,” he said.
As hosts of the kickoff for a third year, the Enforcers and leader Tim Barron organized the event and led workshops for younger teams.
“It’s our way of contributing back to the FIRST community and also to have an opportunity to share our knowledge with other teams,” Fouad said.
Southington’s Cyber Knights said they were focused on perpetuating the team’s success.
“We hope to repeat our success from last year — we won two regionals — and to get as many freshmen involved as possible,” Nick Brino said.
The teams will have six weeks to complete their robots before the 2012 FIRST Connecticut Regional Robotics Competition, to be held March 29-31 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. A scrimmage will be held Feb. 18 at Suffield High School.